Children pay the price of armed conflict, stressed the head of the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) at the conclusion of a week-long Middle-East trip this weekend that included a visit to Gaza, where she saw first-hand the effects of the recent hostilities in the region.
At least 1,300 Palestinians were killed and some 5,300 were injured, around a third of which were children, in the heavy bombardment and fighting in densely populated areas, which reduced homes, schools, hospitals and marketplaces to rubble during the three-week Israeli military offensive aimed at ending Hamas rocket attacks into its territory.
“Children are the innocent victims of conflict,” said UNICEF Executive Director Ann M. Veneman at the end of her trip, which also took in visits to the West Bank and southern Israel, which suffered 14 deaths and more than 530 injuries.
“Schools have been damaged, homes lost and many children carry physical and psychological wounds,” added Ms. Veneman.
Ms. Veneman talked directly with Palestinian and Israeli children affected by the conflict during visits to a partially damaged school, a pediatric hospital and a psychosocial counseling centre in Gaza, as well as a school in Sderot.
A large number of schools in Gaza came under fire during the military operation, which started on 27 December 2008, with 10 severely damaged and 168 partially damaged. School buildings in southern Israel were also hit.
Ms. Veneman underscored Gaza’a urgent need for unrestricted access to humanitarian supplies and personnel to aid recovery and relief efforts, including construction materials to rebuild schools, hospitals, clinics and homes, as well as supplies to rehabilitate water and sanitation networks.
At last week’s Gaza donor conference in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon called the situation at border crossings “intolerable,” stressing that opening them was the first priority for aid and reconstruction efforts.
The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) reported today that all routes from Israel into Gaza were open today, except for the Sufa crossing, and nine truckloads of medical supplies were allowed into Gaza from Libya yesterday through the Rafah crossing with Egypt.
Since the onset of the crisis, UNICEF support has included emergency medical supplies, repairs to water and sanitation facilities, the provision of safe water, hygiene material and therapeutic food, as well as psychosocial support to children, their caregivers and frontline workers. The agency has also delivered educational supplies to enable students and their teachers to return to their classrooms as quickly as possible.
“Children have remarkable resilience,” said Ms. Veneman. “They need proper care, education, protection and support to bring back normalcy into their lives. We cannot afford to miss this opportunity.”
Ms. Veneman’s visit included meetings with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Prime Minister Salam Fayyad, as well as Israeli Minister of Social Welfare, Isaac Herzog, and the Head of the Israeli Supreme Court Dorit Beinisch.